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Laser Strike Hits Coast Guard Boatcrew During SAR Operation

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By The Maritime Executive 08-19-2020 02:14:16

The U.S. Coast Guard has reported another high-power handheld laser strike targeting servicemembers - in this case, a boatcrew that was conducting an active search and rescue operation in Puget Sound on Monday night.

The crew aboard the response boat reported a blue laser strike and said that they were still fit to complete the search, and initially they reported no injuries. However, several minutes later, multiple crew members reported experiencing eye pain and discomfort.

The laser originated from the vicinity of the Point Wells area, north of Seattle. The Coast Guard is asking for the public's help in identifying the source, and Coast Guard Investigative Service agents are working with local law enforcement to investigate the incident.

“Laser incidents are incredibly dangerous, put the safety of our boatcrews in jeopardy and degrade our ability to navigate and respond to search and rescue,” said Lt. Alex Cropley, commanding officer of Station Seattle. “We ask the public to understand the dangers associated with playing with lasers and how they disrupt search and rescue assets from responding to mariners in distress.”

Laser pointers can cause danger to personnel due to glare, afterimage, flash blindness or temporary loss of night vision. If a laser is shined in the eyes of an aircrew member, Coast Guard flight rules dictate that the aircraft must abort its mission.

Aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft or vessel is a felony crime under 18 U.S. Code Section 111, which imposes serious penalties for anyone who forcibly assaults, resists, opposes, impedes, intimidates, or interferes with any U.S. government officer engaged in the performance of their official duties.

Consumer-grade laser pointers can be dangerous at power levels above five milliwatts, and many are unlabeled or mislabeled, according to the American Academy of Opthamology. Blue and violet laser beams are especially dangerous, as the eye is most sensitive to light in this wavelength range, and serious damage - including permanent vision impairment or injury requiring surgical intervention - is possible in the event of a direct hit on the eye.